Carley Roney, Editor in Chief & Co-founder XO Group Inc: From Losing $9m a Year to Growing a $100m Business

Carley Roney, Editor in Chief of and Co-founder of XO Group Inc

The NextWomen DWEN Interview Series continues with Carley Roney, Editor in Chief of and Co-founder of XO Group Inc. The is the most-trafficked online wedding destination with more than 3.4 million unique visitors a month and more than 125 million monthly page views.

Motivated by the excruciating process of planning her own wedding, Carley Roney made it her mission to find a fun, hip, user-generated resource for couples planning their weddings. The wedding world was in dire need for a new voice, and the web was the perfect place to break ground. In 1996, Roney founded with her husband (CEO of XO Group Inc., David Liu) and two other business partners.

As the country's best modern wedding and lifestyle expert, Roney frequently offers inspiring and sensible advice on television, radio, Internet, and print outlets nationwide. Roney helped to develop NBC’s TODAY show's ground-breaking interactive wedding planning series “Today Ties The Knot” and has been featured as the series’ key expert year after year. She has also appeared on top television shows and channels, including Oprah, ABC’s The View, LIVE! With Regis & Kelly, CBS' The Early Show, E!, CNN, Inside Edition, and The FOX News Report, and has been featured in InStyle, Vogue, Elle, Glamour, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today.

We spoke to Carley about how attracts 3.4m unique visitors every month, the challenges and highlights of her career and the benefits of all-female networks.

TNW: How did you take the leap from struggling to plan your own wedding to actually founding The Knot?

CR: When I got engaged in 1993, my now-husband (and business partner) and I were excited like any other couple, but quickly realized the resources available at the time couldn’t help us. I was working 70 hours a week and no vendors were open when I finally could sit down and plan after 7 p.m. There were no etiquette tips for modern couples. I couldn’t find any ideas on how to plan a wedding for a little blonde girl marrying a 6 ft. tall Chinese guy – never mind finding a red wedding dress since my future mother-in-law informed me that white was the Chinese color of mourning! If that weren’t enough, we were also planning and paying for the wedding ourselves and couldn’t find any tips on how to even start.

With the realization that the world of weddings was outdated, cluttered and chaotic, my three other partners and I formed The Knot Inc. (now known as XO Group Inc.) in 1996 to help today’s brides and grooms (and their families and guests) plan the wedding that they want.

 TNW: Who were your first customers and how hard was it to attract them? How did you go on to attract a phenomenal 3.4 million unique visitors a month?

CR: I knew there were so many women who felt the same frustrations I did when planning their wedding, so we launched with one goal in mind – helping brides. They were our focus then, and they’re our focus to this day.

We’ve been lucky enough to gain 80% market share without having had to advertise, through careful marketing and public relations initiatives, but mostly through providing a quality service they sells itself.

Thankfully, we’ve created such a loyal following, where our brides are ambassadors for our brands.

 TNW: How did you monetise the site in the early days and how has that changed as the site has grown?

CR: Initially we monetized the site through simple online advertising with banner deals, but we’ve grown the company to include five revenue streams: local online sales, national online sales, print publishing, e-commerce and registry.

TNW: How important is technology to the success of your company?

CR: Very important – it is our company! We build unique platforms and products to meet the needs of our ever-changing, trendsetting audience. A few new projects we’ve recently launched are The Knot Magazine for the iPad (which we developed internally), Reviews engine (for brides to review local vendors), and our universal gift registry service

TNW: What has been your biggest challenge throughout the history of your company, from planning to funding and execution, and how could others learn from it?

CR: Planning for monetization was definitely a challenge. In 1996 the internet audience was mostly male, and the target audience for The Knot was female, so selling the concept of the internet to potential advertisers proved to be our first big hurdle. But we learned to target other innovative companies that thought like we did – like Nicole Miller, our first advertiser.

We were so close to being profitable, but then the internet bubble popped in April 2000 right after we went public. We were losing about $9 million a year and had only about $5 million in revenue.

Financing in the first half of our existence was absolutely a challenge, as is with any start-up, I suppose. We had a continuous line of near death experiences, but through good-old fashioned persistence we were able to overcome, and now we’re a $100-million-revenue company. There will always be market dips that you can’t control, but you can control how you manage it and see past it.

TNW: Is there a moment in the history of your company which you remember as the highlight so far?

CR: Going Public! It was definitely a milestone and huge feeling of accomplishment beyond our wildest dreams.

TNW: When you built your team, what are the key qualities you looked for to ensure the success of your business?

CR: Passion before experience. We have had the unique opportunity to find incredibly smart, driven employees, who we can grow internally. It takes a little extra mentoring and molding, but in turn we reap the benefits their creativity and enthusiasm.

TNW: How has Dell or the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network enabled you to grow your business? What do you see as the benefits of all-women networks such as DWEN?

Female empowerment is very close to my heart, and I think all-women networks can only unite us as we tackle the business world. I’m honored to have been included among such intelligent ladies through DWEN. 

TNW: What is next for your company? How do you see technology as a key growth driver?

CR: We’re always looking to provide our users with the most inspirational content and innovative products, so we’ll continue what we’ve been doing – listening to what our community needs.

One of our initiatives is to provide hyper-personalized and hyper-localized information. For example, if a bride identifies that her wedding color will be blue, we can lead her to content for blue flowers, blue favors, etc., as well as a “Blue” message board where she can discuss wedding plans and connect with other brides using the color blue. We want our brides’ online experience to be perfectly unique to her needs.

Also, mobile media is definitely a part of our overall strategy. We now have four iPhone apps (Wedding911, Ultimate Wedding Planner, Wedding Hairstyles, Wedding Dress Finder) and two iPad apps (The Knot Magazine, Ultimate Wedding Planner) for, two iPhone apps (PregnancyBuzz, BabyBuzz) for, and a registry app for Our brides and moms are an incredibly tech-savvy, quick-thinking group of ladies, so we are always looking at new ways to help her on the go.

TNW: Do you have any tips or any advice for women who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs?

  • Research, research, research. Know your market inside and out, but at the end of the day-go with your gut. Trust your instincts, and you actually can make anything possible.
  • Be willing to make sacrifices in the early days. It will come in the form of free time, money and your social life. But once you have your feet on solid ground, it all evens out.
  • Know when to divide and conquer. You have to be willing to let go and trust your business partners. Unfortunately you can’t do everything, and it certainly won’t be efficient or effective if you do.
  • Be passionate about what you do. If you’re investing this much of your life into it, make sure it’s worth the effort and it’s something you’re proud of.
  • However, always stay grounded. You will inevitably have some humbling moments (like mine: speaking to a group of four people on a rainy Saturday in a basement of the hotel!), but never be “too good for” anything as you’re building your business.

TNW: If you could change one aspect of the world of entrepreneurship, what would it be?

CR: I think one of the problems in the entrepreneurial world is that people are driven by flipping a business to get a fast return.

I personally believe in building lasting companies that produce a strong brand, create jobs and are built for growth.

TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you, but you’d like to share with our community?

CR: Very thorough – phew!

The Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) celebrates the wonderful accomplishments of women in business, whilst looking forward at how we can progress and learn from each other. Natural networkers and relationship builders, women have innate flair for entrepreneurship. With DWEN, Dell is helping women in business to expand their networks while offering technology capabilities designed to help them innovate and grow their businesses.

The NextWomen is in partnership with DWEN to bring you a series of 40 interviews with the world's most influential female founders, investors and decision makers: The NextWomen DWEN Interview Series.

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